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Posts from the ‘Doing history in public’ Category

Bored Bluestockings and Frivolous Flirts: The Necessary Adaptations of Early Female University Students in Ireland

By Aoife O’Leary McNeice (@aolmcn)

Female students were admitted to Queen’s College Cork (QCC) – now University College Cork – Ireland in 1886. One might imagine that these women were innovative and progressive, as they challenged the boundaries placed upon their gender by entering the predominantly male space of the University. But despite their pursuit of higher education, their behaviour was also conventional, as these students sought to preserve their traditional femininity. For these first women students, the primarily male space of the university needed to be navigated carefully.

This dynamic played out in the College’s student magazine, QCC. In a satirical article published in 1908, an anonymous author presented caricatures of alleged female types. He depicted one woman who embodied the unsexed female ‘advancing decorously with nun-like gravity, … a tall, prim, very dignified-looking lady-student … presenting a general mixture of bluestocking, books and boredness’. He also described ‘the athletic girl stalking with thick, abnormal hands and feet and the hockey figure’. The writer even complained that female students’ ‘numbers appear to be a legion’.[1] As women made up only a small minority of the student body, this sentiment reveals anxiety towards their presence.

QCC also included a weekly ladies’ column. The column constructs a self-portrait of waif-like lady students, fluttering gracefully around campus. ‘Fairy footsteps’ is a phrase used throughout the ladies’ column in relation to the female students, as are descriptions of the ‘rustling’ and ‘fluttering’ of ‘bright dresses’.[2]  This strange self-portrait may have been the author’s attempt to assuage male fears of a threatening, un-sexed female competition on campus, whilst simultaneously emphasising their femininity. There are several articles in QCC that make this overtly clear. The lady students demonstrated their ability to cook and emphasised the fact that, along with performing well academically, they could also carry out the domestic tasks expected of their gender. In February 1908, at a Glee and Madrigal Society social the Ladies’ Column described how ‘The Lady Students … “fed the brute” with cakes made by their own fair hands. Let Mick White now stand forth and defend his malicious assertion that the modern bluestocking could not even cook a potato’. This assertion of femininity, however, was not the only characteristic of female self-portrayal in response to criticism. As well as being deemed un-sexed and un-feminine, the women were also accused of being unfit to study in a university environment because of their femininity. In the same article that satirises the bored bluestocking, we find another stereotype applied to female college students, ‘our frivolous, laughing, chattering, slangy girl…who babbles ceaselessly of theatres, dances, conquests, dress, and the latest scandals.’[3]

As well as asserting their feminine natures and talents, female students also needed to assert their right to study alongside men. The Ladies’ Column frequently celebrated female students’ academic successes: ‘At the scholarship examinations, held last October, the lady students were well to the fore. It is a consolation to remember that the members of our sisterhood are ever ready and willing to run a few paces with the sterner sex in the examination tilt yard’.[4]  This statement celebrated female academic achievements but acknowledged that the standard against which women judged themselves was male. In doing so, it asserted women’s right to compete against men.

These early students wished to be accepted and respected by their male peers. However, they were not necessarily groundbreaking pioneers of the women’s movement. For example, references to suffragettes in QCC appear mostly as insults, or as the butt of jokes. The female students seemed determined to distance themselves from the suffrage movement, and its taint of radical gender subversion.  One example from the Ladies’ Column reported a rumour

“that a contingent of ladies [are] intent to chain themselves … to the door of the Council room at the next meeting, not to demand “Votes for Women”, but something vastly more important … a full length mirror in the Ladies’ Room.” [5]

Although the extract above was obviously written in jest, it is in keeping with female students’ attempts to align themselves with the status quo rather than against it. In the early days of female university education in Ireland, the university environment was an ambiguous, unique space that could be classified as both private and public. Women could engage in activities that might be frowned upon in the completely public domain. However, because both men and women attended the university, women students were still criticised for bending and subverting gender roles, and as a result were presented as unwomanly. This led to a necessity to defend their femininity, which in itself resulted in charges of frivolity. The college space was an environment with new opportunities for women, but also one in which their presence was constantly questioned.

 

Image: University College Cork quad, photograph by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, 20 March 2012 (licensed via creative commons)

References:

[1] ‘Cherchez La Femme’, QCC, vol. V, no. 1, Dec. 1908.

[2]  ‘Aphroditiana or Ladies Notes’, QCC, vol. II, no. 2, Feb. 1906. ‘From the Ladies’, vol. III, No. 1, Jan. 1907. ‘Aphroditiana’, QCC, vol. IV, no. 2, Jan. 1908.

[3] ‘Cherchez La Femme’, QCC, vol. V, no. 1, Dec. 1908.

[4] ‘Aphroditiana’, QCC, vol. IV, no. 2, Jan. 1908.

[5] ‘From the Ladies’, QCC, vol. V, no. 1, Dec. 1908.

Fad or philosophy? The old debate over the consumption of animals

By Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell)

Veganism seems to be the word of the moment. As we come to the end of ‘Veganuary’, it is estimated that a record-breaking number of individuals signed up to ditch meat and dairy for the month, with 14,000 people signing the pledge on 30th December 2018 alone.[1] As scientists are urging us to cut back on animal products, animal rights ethics are coming into play with environmentalism to create a seemingly unstoppable train. However, whilst some people see this as a fad, veganism, or at least the philosophy behind it, has a long history.

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The lost coin collection of the Stuart monarchs

By Christopher Whittell (@ChrisWhittell)  

This post is related to my research for a recent conference paper on the influence of ancient coins on the portrayal of early modern British monarchs.[1]  It also highlights the possibilities of catalogues of coins collections as useful sources for early modern historians including insights into a monarch’s thinking and influences. This includes the one compiled by Elias Ashmole of the original English royal coin collection between 1660 and 1662.[2]

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Doing History in Public review of the year

Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland) looks back at the events of 2018 and how DHP covered them.

2018 was another turbulent year in global politics. In March, Vladimir Putin was, unsurprisingly, re-elected as Russia’s President. Mobeen Hussain reflected in this blog post on how Putin’s popular appeal stemmed in part from rebranding the long-held idea of Russian exceptionalism. Tensions between Russia and the West have continued to increase. Just two weeks before Putin’s re-election, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury. As Fred Smith noted in this DHP post, spying is often associated with modern times, but double agents also operated in sixteenth-century England.

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24. The Stanwick Church Crucifixion

By Eleanor Warren (@elmwarren)

I was shown this sculpture by the local key-holder on a visit to Stanwick Church in 2014.[1] It was a surprise and a joy to see this sculpted stone, which was not on display but languishing in a cupboard in the church vestry.

The stone is the head of an early medieval cross, depicting an image of the crucifixion on one face, and interlaced foliage on the other. Christ’s arms end in three-fingered hands with the thumbs held apart, and a line across the left arm suggests he is robed. The centre of the cross is marked by a boss. Figural representations are the rarest surviving category of pre-Conquest sculpture, but the iconography is similar to a small group of other cross heads from Yorkshire and displays an Irish-Scandinavian influence. It is likely to date from the late ninth or early tenth century. The crude carving shows a low level of skill and a lack of iconographic knowledge from the sculptor, and this, alongside the number of surviving cross fragments found in Yorkshire, suggests that sculptures in this region were produced for secular patrons with varying degrees of wealth and education.[2]

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23. Cleaning teeth through the ages

By Emily Redican-Bradford (efr27@cam.ac.uk)

The first ‘toothbrush’ is thought to have been invented in China in the 1400s, when bristles from the necks of pigs were fixed onto bone or bamboo handles.[1] Before that, twigs were chewed on or split to form brushes and different flavours were used for freshening breath. The ‘modern toothbrush’ was invented by William Addis, who, whilst in prison in c.1780 in England, decided to improve on the traditional rag method used to clean teeth at the time.[2] He carved a handle from a bone, proceeded to make little holes in it and then attached pig bristles onto it. When he left prison, Addis began producing toothbrushes and they were manufactured in England and aboard. More expensive designs were soon expected for the wealthy, with Napoleon Bonaparte owning a brush with a silver gilt handle and horsehair bristles.[3] It was H.N Wadsworth in 1857 who received the first patent for a toothbrush and, in 1938, the first nylon fibre brushes were made.[4]

Image: Napoleon’s toothbrush, c. 1790-1821, made available under a Creative Commons licence.

References:

[1] Valerie Strauss, ‘Ever wondered how people cleaned their teeth before they had toothbrushes?’ The Washington Post (2009).

[2] Museum of Everyday Life, ‘Prison, Suicide and the Cold Climate Hog’.

[3] Science Museum, London ‘Napoleon’s Toothbrush, Europe, 1790-1821’, Wellcome Collection.

[4] Museum of Everyday Life, ‘Prison, Suicide and the Cold Climate Hog’ and Made Up In Britain, ‘Tootbrush’.

22. Miss Merrifield’s Cricket Bat

By Georgia Oman

In May 1876, Margaret Merrifield wrote a letter home to her mother from Newnham College, Cambridge, where she had arrived as a student the year before. The College itself had only been founded a few years earlier, in 1871, with five students living in a rented house in Regent Street, Cambridge. In 1875, the first permanent buildings had been constructed on a piece of land near the village of Newnham, suitably removed from the men’s colleges in the centre of town, and surrounded by expansive grounds, perfect for taking exercise. It was about this that Margaret wrote to her mother.

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21. Gifts from The Queen, the End of a Diplomatic Career

By Harry J. Mace (@harryjmace)

The British Embassy in Stockholm, 1956: Jane Holliday was considering her resignation from the Diplomatic Service. Precipitated by her anger at the treatment of women and a burgeoning romantic relationship with a senior diplomat, Holliday felt it was time to work elsewhere. Having spent some time in Sweden as a secretary and mastering the language, she came back to Stockholm after joining the Foreign Office. She arrived as the Personal Assistant to the Air Attaché and then worked for the Counsellor (No. 2 in the Embassy hierarchy). That very Counsellor ended up, as Holliday recalled ‘my future husband (though I didn’t know it at the time)’. The Embassy was a space of mixed emotions.[1]

Despite her linguistic talents, Holliday was often asked to venture beyond her job description. The Counsellor in question – who had been married twice with a son – felt the burden of being a bachelor and asked Holliday on numerous occasions to serve as his hostess at formal dinners. Yet the Foreign Office soon sent him to Laos. The Queen was due to make a State Visit to Sweden and Holliday suspected the ‘squeaky clean’ Embassy removed the Counsellor as he was filing for divorce. Holliday decided that she would resign after the Royal Visit. She was responsible for preparing the ‘Ceremonial’; the lengthy programme of The Queen’s trip. The visit marked a personal accolade in Holliday’s career, prior to becoming a diplomatic wife. Granted an audience with The Queen, ‘who was charming’, Holliday was presented with ‘a signed photo and a solid silver powder compact’ for her services. Male colleagues would not have received gifts. Both objects were reminders of Holliday’s short but exceptional work in the Diplomatic Service. Only seventeen years later could talented women, like Holliday, serve Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service as wives and mothers.

Image: Signed photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 by Cecil Beaton (permission received from Nate D. Sanders Auctions). Click here to see the solid silver compact.

References:

[1] Jane Holliday, Cocktails and Cockroaches: A Diplomatic Memoir (Milton Keynes: Author House Ltd, 2009).

20. An Entry for Refuge: the Khoja caravanserai door

By Taushif Kara (@taushif)

Of the many ornate wooden doors spread throughout Zanzibar’s ‘stone town’ – and there are many – the one I find the most intriguing, and indeed the most beautiful, is the door to the Khoja caravanserai, built in 1892. The door itself opens to a musafarkhana, a hostel of sorts, meant to house Khoja travelers (a trading community from western India) who would arrive in Zanzibar from around the Indian Ocean littoral. Countless migrants and their families would pass through this door upon arrival, usually after what was often a long and treacherous journey by sea. Crafted in a style that is quite unique to the island, with intense floral carving juxtaposed with beautiful calligraphy and ominous brass studs, the door is at once both welcoming and intimidating. Arabic inscriptions exist alongside Gujarati and English, a testament to the polyglot and diverse nature of the island.

While it is indeed very beautiful, that’s not really why I chose it; in fact, it is quite mundane – doors are everywhere! This one, however, despite its ornamental grandeur, was meant to do something relatively humble: provide a space of shelter to those on the move.

Image: Door to the Khoja caravanserai in Zanzibar, author’s own photograph.

19. James Steuart’s box of oysters at the Museum of Natural History (1868)

By Tamara Fernando (@TamaraFernando3)

The historians’ job is akin to the detectives’: we ferret out clues, evaluate evidence and make deductions. But what do we do when trails run cold? My doctoral research is on the pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar. Sometime between 1820 and 1830, the painter Hippolyte Silvaf made twelve water-colours of the fishery in Ceylon. As sources, these paintings would have offered incredible visual insights into the industry long before the advent of photography. Unfortunately, in 1989, all the paintings were stolen from the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) where they had been held since 1908. No one has been able to track them down since. But perhaps we needed to broaden our search.

On 25 May 1868, Captain James Steuart donated a box of 11 oyster specimens to the British Museum. Although the box is rarely consulted by historians, mounted on the inside lid of the box is a painting of the fishery titled ‘Boats returning from the Ceylon Pearl Banks in March’. * Although it is unsigned, we can compare it with Silvaf’s oeuvre and with the description of his paintings recorded by RCS librarians to deduce that this is a copy of one of the lost paintings, ‘Scene at Silawatorre: boats returning from the Pearl Banks’. The box of specimens, which, bound up with colonial practices of collection and documentation, has ensured that at least one of these remarkable paintings survives today!

*My thanks to Tom White at the Museum of Natural History and Rachel Rowe at the Royal Commonwealth Society for their help putting the pieces together.

Image: Edwin William Streeter, ‘Auction of Pearl Oysters in Ceylon’ from Pearls and Pearling Life (London: George Bell and Sons, 1886). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Moving Statues and Moving Away from the Catholic Church in Ireland

By Aoife O’Leary McNeice (@aolmcn)

In May 2018, the Republic of Ireland voted by a landslide to remove the 8th Amendment from its constitution.[1] The Amendment stated that the right to life of the unborn child was equal to that of the mother, which essentially made abortion illegal unless the mother’s life was at risk.[2] The referendum result was heralded as a sign of Ireland’s rapid secularisation, and the declining influence of the Catholic Church.[3]

In the summer of 1985, just over thirty years before Ireland would overwhelmingly vote to decriminalise abortion, the nation witnessed a wave of Marian apparitions. It became known as ‘The Summer of the Moving Statues’.[4] Read more

18. Fragments of Clay Pipes found on the Banks of the River Thames

By Sarah Sheard, Artist, Edinburgh (@sarahofthenorth)

I did not like History at school. Maybe it was the way it was taught, but if that were true, I wouldn’t like Art either, and now that is what I do– I am an artist in Edinburgh. I remember visiting the Tate Britain and seeing Mark Dion’s Tate Thames Dig – a two-sided cabinet filled with items he and a team had collected while mudlarking (scavenging in the river’s banks for items of value). I loved these collections because of what they looked like together – and because these fragments were now items of value – not for what they told me about the history of the Thames. I found my own collection of fragments of clay pipes, which I keep under a bell jar. Whether it is through this collection, or my assortment of 50 pence pieces, or all the art I have ever made, maybe I like history after all. Maybe all I am trying to do is create my own history.

Image: Collection of fragments of clay pipes, author’s own photograph.

17. A Pomegranate

By Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown)

The pomegranate has had many religious, mythical, and political connotations. It was associated with Katherine of Aragon due to her position as a Spanish princess. Born in 1485, she was a child when her parents, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella, conquered Granada, which is the Spanish word for pomegranate. The fruit was officially acknowledged as her personal emblem when she married Henry VIII in 1509. A manuscript presented by Thomas More to honour their coronation featured a Tudor rose and a pomegranate under a crown.[1]

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16. The National Covenant of Scotland

By Stephen Preston, Heritage and Cultural Coordinator at St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh (@StGilesHighKirk)

The National Covenant of Scotland of 1638 was a document designed as a nationwide petition to King Charles I of England and Scotland, requesting that he cease trying to impose Anglicanism on Scotland and leave it to be Presbyterian. This, at a time when both England and Scotland’s reformations were less than 100 years old and Anglicanism was still a little too close to Catholicism for some. In this context, the authors of the Covenant attacked Anglicanism with some pretty damning language. Phrases such as ‘…his five bastard sacraments…’ and ‘…blasphemous opinion of transubstantiation…’ but also ‘…seeing that many are stirred up by Satan and that Roman Antichrist…’ perhaps hint to the feeling against Anglicanism in Scotland. Unfortunately, the Covenant did not have the desired effect. Whilst the Covenant clearly attacked the King’s policy, the Covenant never questions the King himself, the Scottish lords ‘…stand to the defence of our dread Sovereign the King’s Majesty …’. Charles appears to have ignored this olive branch from the Covenanters, and pressed ahead with the imposition of the Anglican Church in Scotland.

Image: Photograph by Stephen Preston

15. The Iron Cross: a national symbol

By Laura Achtelstetter (@Laura8tel

In my research, the Napoleonic Wars – or Wars of Liberation (1813-15) as they are called in Germany – are a central event. Nearly all of the people I am focusing on  fought in these wars, many of them got wounded, lost friends and family members. In testimonies from this time, one object is central: The Iron Cross (IC).

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14. A Bank Cheque for £146.17.9

By Aoife O’Leary McNeice (@aolmcn)

Sometimes doing history feels like you are beginning with a completed painting, quilt or jigsaw and trying to go back to the start to figure out how the paint got on the canvas, or where the thread came from, or whose hands completed the jigsaw. Was it one person or a group of people? How long did it take them? I study global humanitarianism during the Great Irish Famine and lots of the things I discover lead me to ask these kinds of questions. How on earth did a ship sailing from Hawaii to British Colombia donate money to Ireland during the Famine? I know that this happened, but I don’t know how. I am now trying to figure this out. In fact, most of these things happen because of people’s relationships with one another and the wielding of power and profits. The British Relief Association was the largest organisation involved in famine philanthropy, amassing hundreds of thousands of donations from people across the world. I have been researching its committee-members, one of them is named John Prescott, a banker. I found his old bank cheque from 1871 and bought it for £4. It is not a piece in the particular jigsaw I am trying to disassemble, but holding it in my hands feels as though, at least, I am not holding nothing.

Image: Bank Cheque, Messrs Prescott, Grote, Cave & Cave, 1871, author’s own photograph.

 

13. A fumigated letter from the Lazzaretto in Verona

By Marina Inì (@MarinaIni_)

During my research trip in Verona, I came across a striking document among the letters from the Lazzaretto in Verona to the Chancellor of the Health Office of the city.[1] The letter, written in 1738, was not important for its content, but rather for its aspect: the colour of the paper was brownish yellow with a lighter part in the middle, which seemed to be the imprint of an object. This made me question why there were only a few letters with these marks. The reason, it turns out, lies in the complexity of the protocols of the lazzaretto and in the Early Modern theory of contagion.

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12. The privy seal writ: an unwelcome gift

By Laura Flannigan  (@LFlannigan17)

One of the main methods by which accused parties were summoned to appear before central English law courts in the early modern period was the privy seal writ. Issued from the royal Chancery at Westminster to the litigant (for a fee), this writ was a small document in Latin or English, folded into a bound packet.  A wax seal measuring around 1 ½ – 2 ½ inches depicting the seated monarch and the royal arms (denoting it as the monarch’s ‘private’ or personal seal) was affixed to the outside. Testimonies given by messengers and plaintiffs to the courts throughout the sixteenth century describe, in detail, the delivery of these small but imposing items in public spaces and in the presence of witnesses.  Owing to the vague nature of the text of the writs – which usually identified only the recipient’s opponents, and not the matter for which they were being summoned – reactions to being handed one could be extreme. Though the writs came with a financial penalty if ignored, those on the receiving end might ‘throw [the writ] on the ground’ or otherwise ‘violate’ the document and the seal whilst uttering ‘opprobrious words’, and some went so far as to unsheath their weapons. More unusually, one defendant in 1525 threatened to make the bearer ‘ete the said letters’. In the 1510s, a litigant’s servant actually was caused ‘to have eten all [the] seid prive seale with the wex and… swallow it doon’. In the increasingly litigious society of early modern England, this was a gift no-one wanted to receive.

Image: Court of Chancery, made available under a public domain licence.

11. The not so invisible college of Cambridge

By Anna Gibbons

This picture depicts the first permanent home of the ‘invisible college’ of Cambridge. The National Extension College (NEC) was set up in 1963 by Michael Young. He wanted to help adult learners who needed a ‘second chance’, the generation who had had their educations disrupted by the Second World War. He envisaged the NEC as a pilot for a ‘University of the Air’ – what would become the Open University – a novel experiment in distance learning. The limitations of education through formal institutions, the inflexible time constraints, could be overcome.

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10. A Ticket for the Gift of the King’s Cure

By Christopher Whittell (@ChrisWhittell

The object for today’s calendar is this entry ticket to the ceremony of the Healing of the King’s Evil, issued during the reign of Charles II.  Due to the very high demand to attend the ceremony, it was given to invited guests, whom were sufferers from a disease called scrofula, as proof of their invitation. At the time, it was considered only curable by the gift of the healing powers of the king, who during the ceremony also gave the sufferer an angel, a gold coin or token with an image of an angel imprinted on it, to wear round their necks.  Although some consider it to be genuine, as it has the appearance of a one-time detector or River Thames find, the weight disparity between this one and other examples, could mean that this is a very rare, unique example of a contemporary counterfeit, a devious way for someone to meet Charles II and receive his gifts.

Image: A Ticket to Attend the Royal Touching Ceremony of Charles II, author’s own photograph.